…There is a very deep pessimism against human nature that whispers in the darkest recesses of the human heart:
It tells us that the only way to beat the ‘cowards,’ the ‘traitors,’ the ‘sellouts,’ the ‘revisionists,’ is to declare a total war and to completely delegitimise their ideas, their agenda, and even them as a person, in their very deepest selves…
For the one who does not repent, everything is impossible.
It is true that justice and mercy are two of the Names of God Most High, but it is no less true that they cannot be played off against each other.
Repentance is the invisible line between civilisation and chaos, and between a true and authentic society and mere anarchy.
Unfortunately, in the age we live in today, there are many on the materialistic left and materialistic right (in the UK, USA, EU, Russia, PRC and many other places) who do not understand this point.
The view that people are static and cannot change is immensely damaging.
So also is the view that without (figuratively speaking) shedding the blood of one’s old and unrepentant self, remission can yet be lightly granted.
Both principles are held in contempt by the materialists of left and right alike, and the real truth, as is so often the case, goes beyond conventional ideological categories and the “political correctness” of both sides.
Moving beyond this negative angle on the life and death of Rabin (although one that is perhaps constructive and educational in its own right), here is something rather more positive.
Despite the illness of the highly respected Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, a beautiful letter has been quoted on his official Facebook page.
I hope Dr Sacks and the administrators will forgive my taking the liberty of quoting these beautiful words in full.
Today marks 25 years since the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin on 4th November 1995. Here is a personal reflection from Rabbi Sacks, which we first shared 5 years ago.
Between 1993 and 1995, Rabin had been engaged in a peace process with the Palestinians. It was deeply controversial, in Israel and outside. There was some support but also much opposition. The tension mounted in 1995. In September of that year I wrote an article in the press giving him my own personal support. At the same time, however, I wrote to Rabin privately saying that I was deeply worried about internal opposition to the plan, and urged him to spend as much time negotiating with his fellow Israeli citizens – specifically the religious Zionists – as with the Palestinians. I did not receive a reply.
On Motsei Shabbat, 4th November 1995, the world heard the news that Prime Minister Rabin had been assassinated by a young religious Zionist at a peace rally. I attended the funeral in Jerusalem. Returning the next day, I went directly from the airport to the Israeli ambassador to tell him about the funeral, as he had needed to stay in London to deal with the media.
As I entered his office, the ambassador handed me an envelope. “This has just arrived for you in the diplomatic bag.” It was Yitzhak Rabin’s reply to my letter – perhaps one of the last letters he wrote. We read it together in silence. It was three pages long, deeply moving, an eloquent restatement of his commitment to peace. But by the time it was delivered he was no longer alive. He had pursued peace, as we are all commanded to do, but he had paid the ultimate price.
This letter, a picture of which you can see here (see below for the text version), now hangs on a wall in my office. Rabin’s words, so true then, still call to us now even many years on from his death. We must all, as Rabin says in his reply, “continue to work together for the continued unity and strength of our people and our country”. Let this be our inspiration as we pray for and work towards a true and lasting peace for all of Israel.
Full text of Yitzhak Rabin’s response to Rabbi Sacks (dated 18 October 1995):
Thank you very much for your eloquent and thought-provoking letter and your good wishes for the New Year. Your continuous and unfailing support for the peace process is highly appreciated by the Israeli government and myself.
These are, indeed, trying times. We are making every possible effort to shape a new and promising future for our people and the struggle for peace is no less difficult than the waging of war. Unfortunately, it takes its toll on human lives as well. Every casualty which we suffer, whether it is a soldier or a civilian, regardless of where he or she resides, grieves me deeply. Yet I know that there is no long-term answer to our security problems, and to our co-existence with our neighbours, other than peace. For the sake of our children and grandchildren we cannot forfeit this historic opportunity. I have said many times that we did not pray for nearly two millennia for the return to Zion only to find ourselves ruling over two million Palestinians or creating a bi-national State. I know that you share this view.
I understand the anxiety of Israelis who live in the territories and appreciate their concerns. These are shared by many Jews, religious and non-religious. I have met with their representatives, read their letters, driven past their demonstrations. I listen to their arguments and I am not indifferent to their needs, nor have I ignored their requests.
Thank God, we are a democratic nation and all voices are heard. But even within the democratic framework, obstructions, the call for violence, the use of undemocratic means to destabilize our system and our way of life, cannot and should not be permitted. Compromise and tolerance are essential, if peace is to be achieved.
I am well aware of the tremendous contribution of religious Zionism to the State of Israel and the Jewish people. The fact that its supporters are so passionate in their views on the peace process is, perhaps ironically, the best testimony to their commitment to Zionism. But no less Zionist are the views of those who believe that Am Yisrael [the Jewish people] takes precedence over Greater Eretz Yisrael [the land of Israel].
I am deeply disturbed if the public debate on the peace process is perceived by some as a debate of religious versus non-religious. There are secular Jews who vehemently oppose the peace process just as there are religious Jews who fervently support it. The decisions which my Government and I have taken are not rooted in hate toward Judaism, but in ahavat Yisrael [love of one’s fellow Jew] in the fervent hope that never again will a father say kaddish for his fallen son, never again will our hevre kaddishah [burial societies] scour the streets for the bloodied remains, never again will a bar mitzvah read maftir for the first time without his father by his side.
In Washington last month I publicly said to Mr Arafat that: “If all the partners to peace-making do not unite against the evil angels of death by terrorism, all that will remain of this ceremony are color snapshots, empty mementos … We will not permit terrorism to defeat peace. We will not allow it. If we do not have partners in this bitter, difficult war, we will fight it alone. We know how to fight. We know how to win.” At the same time the State of Israel and its Government is making every effort to protect the lives of Israelis and Jews, not only in Israel but wherever they may be. That is both my solemn responsibility as Prime Minister and my personal commitment as a son of the Jewish people.
Privately, I hope that you can communicate this message to Anglo-Jewry, and to the Jewish world in the Diaspora in general, for the partnership between Israel and the Diaspora remains a cornerstone of our policy. I trust that we will continue to work together for the continued unity and strength of our people and our country.
Again, I deeply thank you for all you have done, and close in the belief that Hashem yevarekh et amo vashalom, “God will bless His people with peace.”
These are beautiful words from a man of peace, who was martyred for his vision: Yitzhak Rabin.
These are truly poignant words, and they are not without their significance today.
Bitterness, unhealed wounds and mutual recrimination remain over the UK’s EU referendum, the highly contested US election, India’s clash between the Congress Party and BJP, Poland’s war between religious traditionalists and secularists, and many other conflicts that so often seem well nigh irreconcilable.
At this point, it is worthwhile to pause in reflection and in meditation: and for many of us, in prayer.
I am reminded here of the words of the renowned 1st century Rabbi, Hillel the Elder, whose words evoke such a wondrous air of familiarity for those of us who adore the Christian New Testament:
What you yourself hate, don’t do to your neighbor. This is the whole law; the rest is commentary. Go and study.
I find especially beautiful at this hour, his view that the good of Am Yisrael (the people of Israel / Jacob) is found in the mission of Am Yisrael, and that this is not simply limited to formal possession of Eretz Yisrael (the land of Israel), however important that may be in itself.
There are only two lives one can live:
A life of violence, or a life of martyrdom.
This is one living soul who knew the difference, and went down one path with his eyes open, and pursued it to the bitter end.
This letter from Yitzhak Rabin was written to one person, but in a way, it is for all the world.
May his memory be blessed.
Without anguish and without fear, may we all be true martyrs, in great ways or in small, and share with him in the world to come.
As a non-Jew, I see a lot of wisdom in these words.
One crucial element within this beautifully wise saying, it seems to me, is the counsel against cynicism.
There is a very deep pessimism against human nature that whispers in the darkest recesses of the human heart:
It tells us that the only way to beat the ‘cowards,’ the ‘traitors,’ the ‘sellouts,’ the ‘revisionists,’ is to declare a total war and to completely delegitimise their ideas, their agenda, and even them as a person, in their very deepest selves.
To understand is to compromise.
To listen is to show weakness…
Is this really so?
Rabbi Hillel seems to have a message to Jews, and indeed to all the world, to every human being of all faiths and none, that runs contrary to this idea.
To declare a Total War on others for their lack of conformity to certain values (be this conformity real or imagined, it matters but little here) and to reduce them to a mere category, rather than to a name (and no doubt those who understand what this rather odd turn of phrase means will understand, those who don’t will not)…
To put our own zeal for what has been lost above the basic dignity of others is not simply to provoke some future backlash, for that is hardly the point.
It is simply to put the commentary of the Law above the Law itself.
Rabbi Hillel had something to say about that.
And for those of among my co-religionists who are tossed on the horns of the secularist Scylla and the religious profiteer Charybdis…
Maybe Jesus had something to say about it too???